There Is Such a Thing as a Good Mental Breakdown
There Is Such a Thing as a Good Mental Breakdown
I remember the 15-month period during which I experienced the worst depression of my life as a time of hiding. I did everything I could to avoid people, myself, and the things in life I knew were good for me. I was inexplicably exhausted—not sluggish, not fatigued, but tired through my bones. So I would go to bed as early as possible and then sleep until my boyfriend had to get up for class. Some days I would feign waking up. I’d climb out of bed, make my way to the kitchen, and have a brief conversation with him before he left for the day. Then I’d hurry back upstairs to bed where I could sleep until noon. That was my only hustle for the day—hurrying to bed. Other mornings, I just lay there.
The weirdest thing about my depression was not recognizing that it was happening. I lost interest in nearly everything I used to love, I lost my energy, I gained 20 lbs, and yet, for some reason, I couldn’t recognize or accept that something was wrong. At the time of this dark period in my life I had a loving support system, was working on a mental health start-up, and thought I was very “happy” with my life. I refused to believe that something like depression could swoop into my world like a dementor and suck the soul out of me.
But it did. I’d read it a thousand times, but I had to experience it myself to understand that depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care who loves you, how fortunate you are, or what you’re working on. It comes in like a silent tornado and you don’t even realize what hit you until the damage is done.
"The weirdest thing about my depression was not recognizing that it was happening. I lost interest in nearly everything I used to love, I lost my energy, I gained 20 lbs, and yet, for some reason, I couldn’t recognize or accept that something was wrong."
About 10 months into the dark period, as I’ve come to call it, I hit rock bottom. Months of apathy and low serotonin compounded into an explosive meltdown one morning in May. I couldn’t get out of bed for the entire day. I couldn’t stop crying. My body hurt and I couldn’t rationalize how I would ever feel better. The worst part was that I couldn’t think of a “why” for how I was feeling. And that only made me more hopeless. I scheduled an emergency session with my psychiatrist, a doctor I hadn’t seen in a year but was fortunate to have, and drove myself to the appoint with my splotchy, tear-stained face.
I came out of the session with a diagnosis of severe depression, a prescription for an anti-depressant, and for the first time in ages, a sense of relief. Finally, I had an answer. I had a name for this amorphous cloud that was keeping my joyful spirit hostage. And I had a plan to get back to a place where I recognized myself.
But as I started to drive home, I began to dread the diagnosis. I had no idea how to tell my boyfriend. We’d been dating for over six years at this point; he was the most supportive person I knew. But I also knew that this was his biggest fear. Unlike me, he didn’t have a family history of mental illness or a real understanding of mental health. He feared that me being diagnosed with depression was like kissing the woman you fell in love with good-bye and welcoming in a new, muted version.
"The worst part was that I couldn’t think of a 'why' for how I was feeling."
That summer was a learning experience for us both and it’s only with a retrospective lens that I can say it was a good thing. But it was, and I’m grateful that it happened. After several false starts I was able to develop a routine again. I started small. Just walking 20 minutes a day. I set incremental goals for myself instead of trying to tackle the colossal to-do list I’d abandoned for months. At the end of every day I’d take a moment to think about whether or not I felt better than the day before and if my conscious actions contributed to that improvement. I’d let myself be proud of making progress, even if it was small.
It’s been over two years since the day I got my diagnosis of severe depression and I can’t remember the last time I felt this good. I’m more confident in my relationship because we got through such a hard time—we communicated honestly and experienced lessons in empathy. I’m more confident in myself because I feel like I’ve earned the joy and happiness I currently have in my life. Every day I make small choices to help myself be the best me I can be. I exercise. I sleep enough, but not too much. I eat balanced meals. I read a lot about depression, about nutrition, and about self-care. I’ve learned that you can’t prevent depression from striking, but you can know yourself enough to protect yourself and your loved ones from unnecessary pain.
You can have a good mental breakdown. It will suck as it happens and probably for a long time after. But it will eventually make you a stronger, more grateful person. For me, it made happiness that much sweeter.
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